The Living Legends / Various – UHB IV: Stop & Retaliate

3 out of 5

Label: Outhouse

Produced by: Sunspot Jonz

A better rap scholar could certainly lay all this out for you, but I came to find Living Legends backwards, starting with Murs’ and The Grouch’s solo works, then rewinding to LL’s later albums, and then back to what I could find of their earlier recordings, the UHB compilations. These sets – UHB I think standing for Unsigned & Hella Broke? – started – again, I think, just using discographies and wiki – as Mystik Journeymen albums, the Living Legends precursor group of co-founders Sunspot Jonz and Luckyiam, before growing into a series of releases of rotating-door contributors featuring many of the Legends’ crew and several guest stars.

From the wide world of indie hip-hop, those select groups that err toward more “conscious” or intelligent backpack styles don’t always step up to those terms. The Legends make good on their name, though: even at these earlier stages, and roping in a whole bunch of contributors, the posse jumps easily between literate lyrics and silly bits, club boasts and contemplative runs, all while keeping things mixed in terms of meter and beats. Sunspot Jonz handles most of the production across UHB IV, and though the core of any given track may be a simple (and often catchy) loop, little affectations and enhancements to that simplicity go a long way towards shaving off a certain sloppiness that sometimes accompanies indie hip-hop, and makes it easier to appreciate the skills all the m.c.s bring to the table, rarely getting repetitive or mealy-mouthed.

However: Stop & Retaliate is… broad. With so many people on it, there are a lot of ideas going on, and it is very much a compilation rather than an album, and without much lyrical focus. There are some short instrumental tracks, maybe an improv or two, and even if each individual track is fascinating, or impressive, the sum isn’t necessarily greater, as I’m not sure this flows, as much as it is a bunch of songs (and some ideas) thrown together. It’s kind of more conceptually appealing than directly appealing.

It’s thus a disc that I always forget I’ve listened to quite a bit – I know the beats, I know the words – because its rather herky-jerk nature makes it not the most immersive thing, and dismisses it from memory.